Physiologists should think again before postulating the drive to self-preservation as the cardinal drive in an organic being. A living thing desires above all to vent its strength – life as such is the will to power – self-preservation is only one of the indirect and most frequent consequences of it.
He lay near the open field, reclined against the base of the mighty oak, sleeping in midsummer's shade. Yet, he felt cool, no, cold. In the midst of dreams, he felt a great strangling chill that insisted that he was somewhere else, somewhere more removed, somewhere of an ethereal majesty. Yet it was so cold, so removed from light, that he knew it to be a nightmare.
A gunshot slices the air.
He jolted awake.
Groaning he massaged his forehead with his right hand, propping himself up with the left.
What does it all mean; he thought to himself, what am I supposed to make of it? That voice, I can't place it, and yet it has a quality of "home" about it. It has a quality of belonging, of purpose. But, I cannot figure out what it means. All I know is that the speaker is young, too young to even known if this person is male or female. Everything is so mysterious, and I feel so helpless. For all the powers that I, Shadow the Ultimate Life-Form, am supposed to possess, I cannot even discover a single truth.
He sorely lamented that his former self hadn't been a philosopher.
Lost in thought, the black hedgehog hadn't taken notice of the faint rustling of a branch, so faint, that hedgehog ears, no matter how advanced, couldn't detect it. Shadow glanced up to see cold steel pointed toward his face. Others weapons, which had fanned out upon the issuance of the first command, quickly joined this assault rifle.
"Shadow the Hedgehog, you've been charged with war crimes and conspiracy to commit terrorist actions against world peace," blared the owner of the first barrel. "You're hereby placed under arrest. Surrender peaceably."
The accused hedgehog, reviewed the faces around him, along with the rifle barrels that extended toward him. He had the disdain of a man who has yet to have his first serving of morning coffee.
"I think that is a difficult order to obey," Shadow coolly stated, "considering…"
His left hand fingers slowly embraced the gem hidden in a hollow underneath the tree root and within a hole in the soil.
A flash of light temporarily blinded the soldiers. When their vision refocused, they saw the prey had escaped.
"Where'd he go?"
"He couldn't have gotten far!"
"Don't be ridiculous, with that Chaos Emerald he could be on the other side of the planet by now."
"Me talking stupid? That sounds stupid."
Thus, the talk of irate soldiers as they spun in circles, looking for a sign of flight. Perhaps the smoke and mirrors was a cover for a less mythical means of escape. Still there was no trace of Shadow the Hedgehog anywhere.
One of the soldiers went sprawling backwards, his rifle flying into the air. The attention of the others turned to the unconscious comrade.
"What was that?"
"How did that happen?"
"Quiet! He's still here somewhere! Find him!"
Two more troopers were sent sideways, to the left and right. Morale and courage took a serious blow.
"I saw him!"
"Me too, over there!"
"Well, I don't see him now! Where is he?"
"I don't know."
A streak of yellow flared to one man's right.
A string of hot lead was sent in futile pursuit. A "Thump!" later, and the ambitious gunner was soon on the ground as well.
Shouts, beatings, and a few shots followed along this pattern for a few tense moments longer, till there was only one…
The original soldier, a lieutenant who commanded the crack team, was the unlucky thirteenth still standing. His nerves were incredibly taught as he sought out the impudent criminal who was systematically knocking his subordinates over like bowling pins. He turned left, right, he was breathing laboriously. Still, there was no clue to the hedgehog's location. The lieutenant had been briefed about chaos control, but such pretty words didn't do the true life capabilities of this power justice. Forcing himself to remain calm, he kept in mind that he was the only thing standing between the hedgehog and escape.
But, did the hedgehog really want escape?
Before he could reflect on that, a fist, coming from nowhere, struck the lieutenant square in the left eye with such a force it knocked him off his feet and onto the ground, against the tree. With his weapon knocked from his grasp by the blow, the lieutenant clutched at the wounded eye with his hand. Glancing out from the right, he saw the hedgehog walking towards him. Instinctively, he reached for his sidearm.
Shadow saw the soldier's move and reacting accordingly, he tossed the emerald at the combatant's face. Just as the downed junior officer leveled his pistol at the hedgehog, the Chaos Emerald flew into his field of vision and took his focus from Shadow. Before he could refocus on his quarry, the hedgehog was already on top of him. Shadow clenched down on the wrist supporting the pistol, and rammed it against the tree. With a yelp, the lieutenant relinquished the weapon. In moments, Shadow was standing over the human, holding both the emerald and the pistol to his sides.
"I keep telling you people," Shadow spoke in chilly tones. As he spoke, he placed the emerald into his right hover-skate.
"Leave me alone."
Staying focused on the mission, the team, and his life, the lieutenant kept himself cool, and answered in an authoritarian tone, "I'm sorry, but I can't do that."
Shadow's lip twitched in reaction to this. The way the soldier spoke was like a small town cop who rebukes a teenage speeder. It was undignified for Shadow to hear this stern rejection, especially from a defeated opponent.
"Why not?" Shadow's nostrils flared with the question.
"You already know why," the soldier snidely quipped.
"That's the problem, you fool, I don't know."
"Well, it isn't my problem. My mission is to arrest you for your crimes."
"Really, now? Well, according to what you've told me, I must have done something 'very naughty'."
"You have no idea," the lieutenant smirked.
Shadow's lip twitched again.
It was almost poetic the way Shadow twirled the pistol in his hand. He had been holding it by the barrel, but in a masterful flex of the wrist, he had the pistol pointed at the lieutenant. Before the lieutenant could react, Shadow rammed the barrel against his right cheek.
With a little difficulty, since the pistol was slurring his speech, the lieutenant spoke again, trying to maintain a psychological advantage, "So, do you even know how to use that thing?"
"Somehow," Shadow thumb-cocked the weapon, "I don't think it's like rocket science."
"Alright," the lieutenant reduced his belligerence, "so you're going to kill me?"
Shadow exhaled a weary sigh, "No, not really."
"Well, you're starting to get on my nerves. What are you going to do with me?"
The pistol was pressed against his face with renewed vigor, "Don't press your luck."
"What I want is information."
"You know who I am. But, who was I? Where do I come from? I want everything you know about me."
The lieutenant snorted, "I'm sad to say, but I don't have that much information. I'm just a low ranking officer sent to arrest you. I don't know, nor do I want to know, your life story."
"I was afraid you'd say that."
"Then why'd you bother to ask?"
"I don't know… Just thought it would pass the time."
Shadow was fighting another twitch. He also fought the impulse to confide in the gruff lieutenant that he was that desperate for answers. Any lead was better than nothing.
"So now what?"
The lieutenant snapped Shadow back to reality, "I'm tired. I haven't been sleeping well, and this fight has been an unnecessary drain."
Shadow leaned forward. The lieutenant was made uncomfortable by the hedgehog's proximity. He was close enough that his pale chest hairs brushed up against the lieutenant's combat fatigues. Shadow sniffed.
"You've been careless with a can of gasoline," Shadow evaluated, "What'd you drive out here?"
The lieutenant didn't want to want to give him any means of escape. He said nothing.
"Again," Shadow pointed the pistol toward one of the other soldiers, "What did you drive up here?"
The edges of the lieutenant's eyes tensed. Sergeant Dobbs was a good man; the lieutenant didn't want to see the national colors draped over his casket.
A miniature explosion hurtled the bullet into the ground next to Dobbs's face.
"Last time I'm asking."
"Okay," the lieutenant relented. Best to lose a vehicle and the suspect, without having to lose a team member.
"ATVs, about a half-click due east, in a thicket of trees."
Shadow stepped away from the lieutenant, slipping the pistol into his other sneaker, with the safety on, of course.
"You're crazy, you know that," the lieutenant called after Shadow, as the hedgehog was preparing to hover-skate away.
"You were crazy for trying to capture the 'Ultimate Life-Form'."
"More of us will track you down!" The lieutenant lost his temper at the hedgehog's indifference.
"Whatever," Shadow said, looking over his shoulder, "But I'm going to get some answers first."
In a moment, the forest swallowed him up. The lieutenant stared on in disbelief, respecting and hating that hedgehog.
"They didn't capture Project Shadow?"
"No sir, I'm afraid not."
"That's disappointing news, son."
An aged lieutenant general eased back into his office chair. His conversation was directed toward the thirty-something major, an aide, standing before him. The general cupped his chin in thought.
"Well, that settles it then," he pronounced his judgment, "we're going to have to use the authority given to me by the Secretary of Defense and the President, after all. People are going to go nuts over what needs to be done, but I guess that's the price we're to pay."
"You want me to go ahead and alert all commands then, sir?"
"Yes, tell them that they can take more serious measures in apprehending Project Shadow."
An exchange of salutes, and the major briskly walked through the heavy oak doors.
Why is it, the general thought to himself, that skeletons can't stay in the closet? It just seems the older I get, and the higher I go, the more problems there are that come along. Or, at least, old ones return to haunt you…
He shuffled amongst the horde of consoles and controls that surrounded him. All around the room were computer monitors, each one with its own unique telecast feed. Each transmission, in turn, was broadcast from its own satellite, micro-drone-plane, or simple surveillance camera.
"Where is he?"
The agitated viewer was grumbling and growling all along.
"Where is that blasted hedgehog?"
He stopped a moment to tug on a strand of whiskers.
"I have to know!"
Dr. Eggman thundered and roared at the equipment, which remained silent, and, ignoring him, went about their duty of being ever watchful.
Eggman snarled as he paced along the monitors, "It's not like he has anything better to do! He has no friends, no relatives, he's a complete social recluse…"
Eggman stopped a moment, reflected, and then growled about his and his enemy's common attributes. Changing the subject he resumed pacing, "I need him, as much as I hate to say it, to fill in the final phase of my plan. It's a shame that he was allowed that chance to escape when… a certain someone, tried to oust me."
The doctor winced at the incident, and the fact that he received "unnecessary" abuse. It was just a stupid little lie; there was no need to resort to fisticuffs.
"Still," the doctor resumed, "I 'need' him."
He was probably being too generous to his peculiar foe's talents, since he could devise schemes without the person in question. But, utilizing the powers of Chaos Emeralds to alter the time-space continuum certainly provides unique benefits that would help the doctor in his quest. A consoling fact was that "a" Robotnik devised this troublemaker, thus making him an indisputable inheritance from a brilliant grandfather.
"So," Eggman tapped his foot in impatience, "where could he be?"
At that moment, the door slid open, and an egg pawn marched in.
It humbly asked in its electrically buzzing voice, "You called, doctor?"
Eggman smiled at the obedient lackey, "That I did."
Eggman was too focused on his assistant, and that assistant's orders, to notice one of the monitors. From an aerial viewpoint, a drone spy plane, the size of a toy plane, caught sight of another airborne craft: a small blue biplane.
Though the two long time friends had to yell above the gusts of wind to carry a simple conversation, it was a familiar circumstance and even seemed cozy. Summoning some lungpower, Tails tossed a question up to Sonic, who was, as usual in this circumstance, wing walking.
"Are you sure we're going to find Shadow?"
"Then why are we doing this?"
"I enjoy the view," Sonic shot his characteristic grin down to Tails in the cockpit.
Tails couldn't restrain himself, and smiled as well. After a moment though, he frowned. He then questioned his heroic partner further.
"Are you sure we need to find Shadow?"
"Well, I don't think we need to find him at all," Sonic said, kneeling down and talking in a serious tone. "It's just that Shadow's a real mystery to me. He nearly gets us killed twice, intentionally! Then, he helps us out at the crunch time, twice, and just as intentionally when he was trying to put us six feet under! Not even Knuckles is that weird, and you know how he is!"
The two smirked to each other again.
"Still, why did you want to try to find him?"
"'Cause, little buddy, I'm curious and I'd like some answers from the guy himself!"
Sonic then straightened back up and began scouting the horizon. After a moment, he shouted over his shoulder a final comment, "Besides, even if we don't find him, I intend to have some fun up here!"
With the last syllable uttered, Sonic, without warning, ran to the edge of the wing, and jumped. Tails was taken aback.
"Sonic!" the youth shrieked.
Expertly, Tails piloted the Tornado II to pursue Sonic. Keeping a clear mind, Tails decelerated and gently moved the control stick so as to make a controlled dive. Within moments, the fox aerialist brought the wings alongside the falling hedgehog hero, who was blissfully enjoying a freefall. In precise movements, Tails brought the plane out of its dive and moved the wings under Sonic, gently catching him. Leveling off, Tails pressed the throttle and evened out their altitude.
When his heart slipped out of his throat and back to its proper place, Tails stared up in shock at Sonic, who was smiling down to his friend.
"What are you trying to do, get yourself killed?"
"Now how can I do that," Sonic blithely asked, "when I have the world's greatest pilot at the controls."
With that, Sonic smiled with his cavalier's grin. You either loved or hated that boy.
Looking up at him, Tails found the confident words and trustworthy smile a salve for his jangled nerves. The fox returned the smile in kind. Tails, he loved Sonic and had already proved he'd follow him right to the Devil's doorstep, if Sonic thought it the "worthwhile" thing to do.
"Shadow. Remember your promise, Shadow."
The voice, again, called to him. He wasn't sleeping, and yet it called to him. That voice, vague and pleading, seemed to be weary and expunged by a fatal sigh. It was like a deathbed confession. It pained him to hear this voice, because he fought to understand it. Sadly, the more he fought to focus on the voice, the more his memory resisted in dredging up the missing truth; the weaker the voice became. Only at the moment that he relaxed his tension did the voice come wafting back, like a rising tide that swamped him.
"Yes, Shadow, remember your promise…"
Then, there was the other voice…
It didn't frequent him like the former voice, but it was present nonetheless. The second voice bothered him, even scared him a little. It was a deep voice, a powerful, tempting, voice. The first voice he sought after, the second dogged him. The first was coy and fleeting, the second ruthless and implacable. It was only when he tried to remember the first voice would Shadow be troubled by the second, as if it were watchful of his actions.
Shadow returned from his daydreaming when he heard a twig break under pressure. He was standing amongst the ATVs the lieutenant had told him about. Apparently, the lieutenant and his men were more resilient than Shadow gave them credit for. It was annoying.
From one shrub, muzzle flashes caused Shadow to duck to the ground, giving the right of way to the high-velocity projectiles. Shadow was then required to take further evasive action when successive automated weapons bursts sent more bullets towards him. One actually grazed its mark and winged Shadow in the shoulder. Shadow winced at this. They weren't just annoying; they were insulting.
Before any other shots could be better aimed, Shadow jumped high into the air and onto a tree limb. By now, the forest had come alive with a roar and din of battle joined. The forest favored the soldiers this time. Shadow couldn't hone in on a specific assault rifle, since a dozen others like it were hoping to achieve a similar goal. As Shadow lost focus for a moment, due to a bit of fatigue, one of the soldiers succeeded in scoring a hit as well. Though a nick to the hedgehog's flesh, this one caused Shadow to buckle on his left leg, lose balance, and fall into the underbrush below.
That was too much. They were infuriatingly arrogant. Shadow's blood began to boil as the soldiers were encircling his position.
Too easily one forgets that a wounded and cornered animal is the fiercest of them all.
A new wave of energy spread to Shadow's body that was more than mere adrenaline. Feeling revitalized, Shadow picked himself up from off his stomach and began to take note of all those around him. As he did this, the Chaos Emerald in his shoe began to glow. Shadow did not notice this, nor did he think of the pistol in the other shoe. He was too focused on the soldiers, who were convinced they were tightening their noose.
The lieutenant, disregarding his black eye, saw Shadow as he stood up.
"Surrender," he demanded, "and we we'll show amnesty."
Shadow turned and glared at him.
"Don't be foolish," the lieutenant warned.
Shadow took a determined step towards the lieutenant.
"Another step," the lieutenant tensed, "and I'll be forced to terminate you!"
Shadow was beyond this. Externally, he looked directly into the lieutenant's eyes and beyond him, boring holes through his skull with flames. Internally, he raved.
Hounding after me, accusing me of things I don't remember having done, shooting at me, and now you say you'll terminate me? You insipid bug!
A red hue slid over the hedgehog's body, which in the shadows of the trees took an aural essence. The lieutenant tensed his index finger and pulled the trigger. Three shots rang out.
The lieutenant, along with the rest of unit stood in shock of what had happened. They all knew that the lieutenant was a qualified marksman. They saw that the shots were fired at point blank range. What confused them was the fact that they saw the rounds had hit the hedgehog and bounced off…
"Idiot," Shadow seethed in a venomous hiss.
As Shadow tightened the grasp in his fists, the crimson aura grew darker. Before anyone could attempt another volley of fire, Shadow threw back his head in a mad rage and shrieked in a primeval roar. The moment he roared the guttural cry, Shadow's aura flared and was directed outwardly. The effect was that of an explosive blast that splintered trees, cracked the ground, and tossed the soldiers like rag dolls. As suddenly as the torrential rage came, it quickly subsided.
Shadow stood alone. He felt good. He felt a new strength that effaced his weariness of before. Even the wounds to his shoulder and leg felt well, they even looked partially healed.
Blinking a few times, Shadow realized that he needed even more answers than before. There was no other way around it, he was going to restore that which he had lost and nothing was going to stop him. Heaving a sigh to expel all doubts, Shadow walked over to the ATVs and picked one from out of the torn foliage. Seeing it was in good order, he mounted it. Though it was awkward to straddle for his shorter legs, he deemed the motorcycle to be a good choice.
Starting the bike with a forceful press of the ignition, Shadow glanced over at the unconscious lieutenant, who possessed a few broken ribs to accompany the blackened eye. In disgust, he spat, "I told you were the crazy one. Now, you know what it means to battle the Ultimate Life-Form."
Revving the motor, Shadow glanced to see if the emerald and pistol were still in their safe places, which they were. With nothing else to stop him, Shadow sped away, onto a small trail.
"They failed again?"
"Yes sir, I'm afraid so. This time, however, they took a much more severe beating. The lieutenant reported it was some sort of strange energy attack, one that he hadn't been briefed on. And, by what's he's told us, it would seem that it's something we weren't previously aware of either."
Bad news always travels in a group. The major's report caused the general to heave more of his melancholy with an exasperated sigh.
"Say no more Major," he waved, as if refusing further torture. "It's punishment enough to know that I ordered those boys to make a second attempt."
"Sir," the major genuinely expressed compassion, "perhaps you should rest up a bit. You don't have to personally oversee every detail of this capture. Your command is staffed with some excellent officers."
A stern eye turned itself upon the major, making the younger officer apprehensive. The general spoke calmly.
"No, I will see this objective through. I want that hedgehog brought in, one way or another. We can't have him running around loose. Especially after what he's tied to: the doctor, ARK, and one need not forget that he is the child of a madman's fevered genius. He's not just a liability, he's a potential harbinger of Armageddon."
The words the general was using obviously unnerved the major. The ARK incident would be talked about long after the eyewitnesses were resting in their graves. But, the way the general talked, it was just an opening act: the prelude. It was if the general viewed Project Shadow as one of the Four Horsemen himself.
"But," the general weakly smiled, "why listen to an old fool all day?"
The major was pulled from his nightmares of fire and brimstone.
"Go on son. You get back to your work. I think I'll make my preparations to depart for one of the field command posts. Perhaps the fresh air will do me some good."
The major turned to leave, but felt a compulsion to turn and look to the general, with a confused visage in his eyes.
"Well," the general asked, noticing the aide-de-camp's expression with genuine interest, "is there something else?"
"Actually," the subordinate ventured, "I have one more question."
The general sat with a curious look, awaiting the forthcoming query.
The tiny blue speck, hanging at the fringe of the universe, seemed to be a useless, muddy, waste of life. No serious life form would venture this far and this long in order to reach it. However, amongst this rough, backward, ecosystem, there were "diamonds" to be found. Perhaps the better term would be emeralds.
A great, imposing figure loomed over the computer simulation of the tiny sphere as it orbited the 3-D holographic projector. This figure, a Mephistophelean titan considering his shape and proportions, was certainly interested in what the planet, and its vermin of a dominant species, possessed. This titan would readily crush a billion or more of the ants to get what he wanted.
"My lord," a serpentine voice announced, "we are ready to commence operations."
"Excellent," the titan responded, "spare no effort to take that planet and its fabled gems."
"Of course your lordship, this planet will quickly fall to your lordship's invincible troops."
"Do not overrate us," the deeper voiced warned, "there are those who can, and will, resist us."
"Surely, though, they could never defeat our forces."
"You are overconfident. We are invading an alien planet, to seize the most powerful gemstones in the universe. This will not be an easy campaign."
"My lord, do you doubt our forces?"
"No, I merely counsel a wise adage of war: divide and conquer."
"I do not understand."
"If we can, we must use the inhabitants of this world to help conquer their fellow warriors. And I already have special information as to who will be of considerable value in the struggle before us."
The image of a bustling world was replaced by a three-dimensional image of an arrogant ebony creature.
"Surely you jest with me, sire," the servile voice quipped, "this being seems to be a wretch, a mere rodent!"
"You are mistaken here," the titan spoke in a corrective tone. "Despite all appearances, he is very powerful, and if he aids us, we will conquer this planet in days."
This assessment elicited a short silence from the servant. After a moment, and with a fierce internal debate, the serpentine voice grasped new words.
"If that is so," the servant ventured, "then why would he help us?"
"I have my convictions."
"Still," a subservient challenge presented itself, "what if he refuses?"
The titan stared to the hologram and pronounced his "conviction" on this matter, "It is simple…"
"I hate to say it Tails, but if Shadow doesn't…"
"Join the Eggman Empire in its greatest campaign to date, then…"
"Son, if that turns out to be the case, and he presents a threat to all existence, we…"
"Will be forced to destroy him."
Shadow stood atop a low-lying hill, looking down to Station Square. A breeze was blowing, a cool one, it was the breath of a dismal and violent storm announcing its arrival.
What is it, he thought, that makes them pursue me? They're accusing me of terrible crimes. Am I really that terrible person that they say I am? No one does anything without a motive or drive. Perhaps, I have my reasons, my purpose, for having done these things? Or, maybe, they are lying to me, telling me who I am, to have an excuse, a selfish reason of their own, to arrest me, or worse? There are others, as well, that doctor… the blue hedgehog… They say things as well. Whom should I trust? Who is my friend, my enemy? Or… are they all my enemies? All of these questions tear at me and pull me inside out. This, I cannot bear any longer. I must know, and I will know, the truth. I will find out, even if I have to make them tell me. I cannot suffer another minute of ignorance. I will know the truth, no matter what it costs me.
The clouds in the distance swirled over the sky, to blot out the sun. The thunder rumbled, warning of the coming torrent. The shadows of uncertainty were draped over everything.
I have made all the calculations. Fate will do the rest.